I love stories like this one. The staggering lack of self-awareness by our elites is breathtaking at times. A good bookend to that story is this one from earlier in the week. Put the two together and we have smart people holding all the same prejudices as everyone else, but acting on them in a covert way. That is unless they try to automate their decision making, then those prejudices come percolating up as the efficiency of the machine drops the pretense, signally and customs. The HAL9000 in question was just following the logic of its programming, which will always reflect the logic of its programmer.
I posted a comment on Marginal Revolution where I saw the story. The longer version starts with the understanding that all human societies have an organizing ethic. Religion has usually filled the role to one degree or another. The Greeks had a range of cults based on capricious gods. They also had philosophical schools that reinforced the generally accepted morality. Athens also had a civic ethic that was centered on the assembly. All of this reflected the general understanding, the beliefs, of what it meant to be a Greek and what it meant to be a good Greek. It also provided the enforcement mechanism to keep good Greeks in-line and exclude non-Greeks.
For 1500 years, European people relied upon Christianity to provide the framework of the organizing ethos of the people. The Catholic Church defined what it meant to be moral and elites of Europe particularized it to their time and place. In the 11th century, the life of the peasant, the merchant and the noble was the same across Europe. Language differences and minor customs were different, but the big stuff was the same. Civil society was organized along the same hierarchical lines as the Church. The elites were all devout Catholics and derived their identity from their faith.
That began to change in The 100 years War. National identity began to supplant religious identity. As is always the case, the ruling elites went first. By the end of the war, the idea of an English king of France or even part of France was absurd. The French could only be ruled by the French. The Thirty Years War brought this to the remainder of Europe. More important, national identity became the dominant organizing principle of the ruling elites in Europe for the next 400 years. The blood bath that was The 30 Years War convinced them that war over who defines the one true faith was madness. Christianity began to die in Europe, starting with the ruling classes. The new organizing faith was nationalism.
In America, Christianity remained a central component of the ruling class through the Civil War. If you read the propaganda of the Abolitionists, it is shot through with Christian appeals. The elites of the north truly believed they were on the side of God. The lyrics to the Battle Hymn of the Republic are a good example of the religious fanaticism behind the abolitionist movement. By the end of the war, no one with the IQ of a goldfish could believe they were on the side of angels. From that point on reformist Christianity ceased to be the central organizing tenet of the American ruling class.
Today, the organizing faith of America is what Jonah Goldberg labeled Liberal Fascism. It is a mix of cultural Marxism, managerial socialism and economic corporatism. The proper American is judged by his antagonism toward Christianity and nationalism. You see it with Obama. He is our first overtly non-Christian President. His attendance at the racist church in Chicago was a way to signal to his peers that he understood the impulses of the prols, but rejected their primitivism. His early rejection of American Exceptionalism was a nod toward the elite’s loathing of nationalism. Obama is the quintessential member of the ruling elite.
Of course, it animates the elite’s desire to reshape society. One of the strange aspects of America’s adoption of European socialism is how it is spiced with those old puritan and evangelical instincts. Our rulers live like Victorians and are always proselytizing about restraint. Mayor Bloomberg has made his final term about self-denial as a virtue. Then there is the evangelism. Like 17th century Puritans, our elites spend a lot of time making sure we are thinking the right thoughts. Bias is the witchcraft of the 21st century.
Thus I have circled back to the start of this post. The religion of our ruling elites is like all religions at all times. A big part of it is the claim that if we organize things the right way, conduct ourselves the right way, we will gain salvation from the human condition. Their belief they can purge themselves of tribal bias is as superstitious as believing elves and sprites occupy the forest or that demons take over young girls causing them to break the rules. The shock for the folks in the first story is that they were confronted with the fact they have been lying to themselves. God is not, in fact, on their side.